In Defense Of The Easy Button: Why I Enjoy Lower Difficulties In Games

The TL;DR version of this post: It’s not whether you win or lose—it’s how you play the game.

If it’s not obvious from the thousands of hours I’ve sunk into Splatoon 2 (and the array of content I’ve gotten out of it), I’m a pretty competitive person. I enjoy working with and against other people to overcome challenges of all sorts, and video games provide a low-stakes, easily-repeatable environment for this sort of behavior. You can experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, and you can do it all again in a few minutes without ever leaving your couch.

As time goes on and you begin to master the game’s mechanics, the natural progression is to seek out stronger competition and higher levels of difficulty (especially in online multiplayer games). Opponents become harder, better, faster, and stronger, and it’s up to you to find ways to triumph over them. At you move up the ranks, however, some cold hard truths become clear: There are things that work, and then there are things that work, and if you use the former things instead of the latter, you don’t win. Thus, the dreaded “meta” is born.

For folks that aren’t familiar with the term, you can think of “meta” as an acronym, even though it’s technically not one: The “most effective tactics available.” It’s most often used in a gaming context, where certain players/items/weapons/strategies/etc. are better at achieving their objectives than others, and thus said players/items/weapons/strategies/etc. are all you see at the most-competitive levels of play. However, metas can appear in other contexts as well. For example, how many times have you heard me complain about the bland guitar-and-drum mixes and “country” buzzwords that seem to pop up in every song I review? There’s a reason these sounds and subjects are everywhere: They are (or at least are perceived to be) the most effective ways of getting onto the airwaves or earning prime playlist placement on streaming platforms, and thus artists (A-listers, up-and-comers, and everyone in between) adapt these methods to give themselves the best chance to be successful.

(A darker example: Why do you think Bernie Sanders is always complaining about the Citizens United court decision? Because it was the buff that made big money—and especially anonymous “dark money”—the meta in our politics, and anyone who wanted had to play the same slimy game.)

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a meta, and if a game is sufficiently difficult and/or competitive, it’s inevitable that some sort of meta will emerge from the community. However, when a meta emerges and becomes widespread, it tends to make the scene feel stale and even boring (again, how many 5/10s have I handed out this year in my reviews?). Every competitor and competition becomes indistinguishable, and everyone involved in the scene is forced to make a choice: Conform, or die. Outside-the-box thinking is discouraged, and ideas are judged solely on their current viability.

This is why when it comes to gaming, rather than cranking up the difficulty to Extra-Ultra-Impossible and immediately diving into the toughest possible modes, I will often stick with lower difficulty modes and avoid options (such as permadeath) intended to add to the challenge. Why? Because I prefer to explore the problem space, mess around with everything in my toolbox, and discover everything the game has to offer.

For people who measure themselves by the size of their…difficulty settings, this might be a controversial take. But “true gamers” always do things the hard way, maximizing their pain to maximize their glory! Setting aside the baggage of the “true gamer” label for a moment, I would counter that there are other ways to make a game challenging than giving bosses more health and more damage. Rather than being locked into a playstyle that must be followed to the letter to win, I prefer a game that offers multiple paths to victory, and gives the player the freedom to find success however they want.

For example, consider the Pokémon franchise. In Sword and Shield, the current champion (Leon) uses Pokémon that max out at Level 65 (the same level cap, coincedentally, that Blue had in Pokémon Red/Blue). With over 900 Pokémon in the franchise (so many that the latest games don’t actually support all of them), the truth is that some monsters are more powerful than others (in some cases, a lot more powerful). However, with a level cap that’s fairly low compared to the maximum (100), it means that nearly any monster can win against the Champion as long as it’s gotten enough experience. This, in turn, opens up the playbook for players that wander off the beaten path: What happens if I use monster X instead of Y? What if I include certain Pokémon types over others? What happens if I try this move, or this entire moveset? While not everything is going to work (a team of Harden-only Metapods probably isn’t going anywhere), the options for putting together a team are almost boundless, and no matter what your favorite monsters are, you can probably make them work. You can play (and succeed) on your terms rather than someone else’s, which makes the game much more fun.

“But what about multiplayer games?” I hear you ask. These can be a good example as well, especially given the sheer amount of options they provide (seriously, every franchise known to humanity has crossed over with Fortnite by now). For all my time with Splatoon 2, the vast majority of that time has been spent in Turf War, the unranked (and thus the least competitive) mode in the game. Sure, I’ve earned X ranks in all of the ranked modes, but I much prefer messing around with off-the wall weapon and gear combinations in Turf War to try to make them work. Sometimes the focus is on optimizing a specific item (for example, what gear works best with a Dynamo Roller?), but the key is that you have the freedom to play however you want, and while success isn’t guaranteed, it tends to arrive eventually (the matchmaking in the game can be head-scratching at times, and teams can end up imbalanced as heck). There are 139 weapons in the game (and even more gear options), and finding ways to make them all work is half the fun!

The two games I’ve best obsessed with lately are Triangle Strategy and MLB The Show 22, which both fall into this discussion by virtue of the sheer size of their rosters (30 playable characters in TS, and thousands of ballplayers both past and present in The Show). Sure, you can lean on Frederica and Shohei Ohtani if you want, but what about everyone else? Can you win a major battle with Giovanna Koppel, or build a lineup around Luke Maile? What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how can you use them to attain victory? Where are the hidden synergies and strategies that these characters give you? (Fun fact: If you stick catcher-by-trade Maile in the outfield, you can get people out on the bases by baiting them into running with his terrible throws that the fundamentally-sound AI always backs up.) You don’t need a super-tough boss to make a game rewarding, you just need the freedom to experiment and try “suboptimal” strategies to see what happens.

(Editor’s Note: In the end, Mills was too good for his own good, and the developers nerfed him into a relief pitcher in the latest update.)

I’m not saying we should get rid of difficulty settings entirely (in truth, it’s just another knob that curious player can fiddle with). I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with not using them to turn everything into a teeth-gnashing challenge. There are many ways to make a game interesting, and while difficulty is the one we often default to using, we can also step back and investigate all of the tools at our disposal, even if some of them don’t appear to be the best fit at first glance. Who knows, you might stumble onto an idea that becomes the foundation for a whole new meta!

Regardless of how you choose to play, at the end of the day games are supposed to be fun, and how we find the fun in them is up to us.

MLB The Show 22: Is It Worth Buying?

Alternate title: “The Search for the Flyin’ Hawaiian: Was It Worth It?”

Back when I discussed my early impressions of MLB The Show 22, my impressions were almost universally positive, including with the game’s primary online mode Diamond Dynasty. I had played a few matches and found the mode fun, but matches felt very one-sided, with most opponents sporting entire lineups full of diamond-rated players (and me sporting…well, Luke Maile and Luis Guillorme). With a vibrant (and high-priced) marketplace for top-tier players, the game’s M.O. seemed pretty obvious: Drive gamers to acquire better players using in-game currency, and in turn acquire in-game currency using actual currency. Microtransactions were (and are) the name of the game in modern sports titles, and I was determined not to spend a dime over the $60 I paid for the cartridge, even if it meant limping around with bronze-tier cards.

Then I discovered a special program being run by the game…and in turn, one player I really wanted to add to my squad:

I was a huge fan of Shane Victorino’s game in his heyday, and I just happened to have a massive hole in my lineup in center field (the game had given me Daulton Varsho, who was apparently actually a catcher). The bigger revelation, however, was this: The Victorino card could be earned through the special limited-time ‘Halladay and Friends’ online program, although it took 110,000 experience points to do so.

Thus, the question was raised: Could I add Victorino to my lineup at a cost of nothing but time, and would the game be fun enough to support earning 110,000 XP? I decided to spend a few days on the hard grind to find out. What I found was that the Diamond Dynasty mode was much deeper and richer than I had originally thought, with plenty of modes and rewards to keep players engaged and push them deeper into the game.

Ranked seasons are the primary draw of Diamond Dynasty, but a full 9-inning game is a long affair that doesn’t have the “one more game” magic that shorter games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 have. However, the game also features a whole bunch of special programs, most of which are not time-limited and most of which offer packs or specific players as rewards. The programs offer bite-size games called Moments, where you take control of a player or team to reach a simple goal (multiple hits, one home run, five strikeouts, etc.) within a small window of time (a few innings, or a game’s worth of at-bats for one player). For a relatively untrained eye like mine, this takes about 15-20 minutes at most (I thought Adam Dunn was supposed to be a power hitter!), and credits you a couple thousand experience points (or a few of whatever tokens you’re trying to earn) towards your current goal. This is where the “one more game” magic finally kicked in: You could play several of these games in quick succession, make substantial progress towards whatever player you wanted in a short amount of time, and have a ton of fun doing it!

In addition to your normal Diamond Dynasty team, you can also play Showdowns, where you draft a team from an initial set of players, then go through a series of challenges to gain players, abilities, and even progress towards a final objective, where you face down a boss character and have to beat them within a specified number of outs. (You can pull a Breath of the Wild and face the final boss immediately with your initial team, but it’s a steeper climb.) I didn’t find this mode quite as compelling between you don’t keep your team between showdowns (and you also have to pay an entry fee, although they’re not steep), but it’s another option that allows you to earn rewards that can upgrade your DD team.

Finally, one of the best things about active programs is that experience points can be earned through any mode, whether it’s related to Diamond Dynasty or not. Even if your Internet connection can’t support a full game, you can play game against the CPU using your DD team (or even an existing team roster!) and still make progress towards your goals. Making money might be the game’s main goal, but goal #2 is to keep you as engaged with the game as possible, and is willing to part with really good cards to do it.

So after five days of grinding, not only did I have my precious Victorino card, I had darn near an entire team of top players: Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, two players from other active programs (Babe Ruth, Bret Saberhagen), and two diamond players from the dozens of random card packs earned along the way (Ryne Sandberg, Kevin Gausman). Suddenly, I had a solid roster that could go toe-to-toe with other teams, and I hadn’t spent a cent over the game’s initial asking price.

The grinding also provided more insight into the game’s other aspects. For example:

  • The graphics continued to impress and held up fairly well, but there were some moments with noticeable frame rate drops (cornfield closeups at the Field of Dreams were consistently slow), and some stadiums (*cough* Coors Field *cough*) would constantly glitch during scene transitions. Overall, however, the Switch continues to hold up well under the game’s pressure.
  • Even with slowdown (and surprisingly, even in the face of online lag), the general gameplay went off without a hitch. Even if the game froze temporarily, the game still allowed you to execute at the plate and in the field without affecting the competition. As much as I’d like to blame my terrible hitting on the connection, the truth is that hitting a baseball in-game is just as hard as hitting a major-league pitch in real life (the difference between my online and offline stats is minimal, and you face harder/meta pitchers online).

In other words, I tip my hat to the Sony San Diego crew: They found a way to keep players playing without the experience wearing thin or getting old. In fact, it motivates players to seek out cards that they want, determine how to get them, and work towards earning whatever is necessary to do it. As an Orioles fan, I’m now eyeing cards for Jim Palmer, Brian Roberts, and Cal Ripken Jr., trying to figure out how to get them and diving into the modes that will make it happen. (I’m even thinking of making a DD meme team of players only named Kyle…) The game remains fun even though I’m still not very good at it, there are plenty of modes (short and long, online and offline) to keep things fresh, and there’s a path to competitive success online that doesn’t involve selling your soul for Shohei Ohtani.

So after all this rambling, is MLB The Show 22 officially worth buying? If you’re a baseball fan (and especially a longstanding baseball fan), I think you’ll find a lot to like here, and even if you want to be the best player on the planet, you can do it without significant financial investment, and while the time investment may large, you’ll still enjoy yourself along the way. Realistic sports games remain a weakness on the Switch, but games like this make me believe closing the gap with other consoles is possible, and I hope the relevant parties take the next steps to accomplish this.

As for me…honestly, I’m still having trouble pulling Maile and Guillorme out of the lineup. I mean, how can I pass up having Maile’s defense and Guillorme’s beard in the lineup? Sometimes it’s just about winning with you people you want on your squad, whether or not they’re considered any good.

Celebrating 5 Years Of The Switch: What Are Our Favorite Games?

Image from Nintendo

As someone whose childhood gaming experiences started with the Game Boy Advance and proceeded to include the Nintendo DS, Wii, and 3DS, I can safely say that magic somehow left my system when the Wii U arrived in 2012. And despite the notorious failure of that console, I don’t blame it for putting me in something of a gaming blackout period for most of the 2010s. I grew older, and other priorities started taking hold. I suddenly just didn’t have time to explore new games at length. When I did sit down to play something, it was usually just an old favorite.

And then, it happened. I finally got a Switch in late 2019, and the thrill was back. I caught up with the latest entries of my favorite series I had, admittedly, neglected for far too long, and now, much like Nintendo, I feel I’m back on top of the world, creating new, magical, and purely unforgettable experiences I thought I couldn’t do at an older age.

And now, it’s time to celebrate its first five years of life with Kyle, my fellow Switch enthusiast and friend. One caveat I’d like to make with this list is that, because I arrived to the system slightly late to the party, I’m still playing catch-up with some of the most beloved entries in the console’s library thus far. And yes, there are two games on my list that are not Switch exclusives – I’d like to think of this more as a list of favorite experiences we’ve had with the Switch, more than anything else. With that in mind, let’s start the countdown! – Zack

Zack’s #5: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Image from NME

The opening slot on any list is the most contentious one, and for my money, this slot could have easily gone to Metroid Dread, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, or Luigi’s Mansion 3 or … well, you get it. And even despite my initial glowing review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I will admit it’s probably the toughest Pokémon game to jump back into once everything is completed, which is a weird criticism for a franchise traditionally known for its otherwise addictive and easily replayable gameplay loop.

But man, what a gameplay loop it is, allowing players to catch Pokémon in real time like they had always dreamed. Despite the simplistic environments, this is a game that’s just oozing with charm in its various survival-oriented mechanics, story, and the town-building aspect that I still think is an underrated part of the experience. It’s the Pokémon game that fans have been begging for for far too long, and thankfully, GameFreak seems to be taking notes from its success ahead of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.

(Kyle says: I haven’t gotten the chance to try this one out yet, but I applaud The Pokémon Company for finally taking steps to expand on their formula! …But they’re still getting a nasty letter from me for only letting me catch store-brand Caterpies.)

Kyle’s #5: Dragon Quest Builders 2

I didn’t realize how RPG-heavy my Switch library was until I started working on this list. Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokémon Sword, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and the original Dragon Quest Builders were all contenders for my Top 10, but it’s the DQB sequel that earns the prestigious spot here.

Was the DQB series a blatant and obvious attempt by Square Enix to shoehorn an existing IP into a Minecraft-style world to tap into the lucrative market of sandbox games? Absolutely, but the move was executed so perfectly that it didn’t matter. The characters were compelling, the story was unafraid to venture into deeper and darker territory, and even the visuals were a clear upgrade over the games it was copying from. DQB2 perfected the original formula, making NPCs more active and lively, expanding your home base to a massive island ripe for construction, and upping the ante in the story to the point where…okay, I won’t spoil it for you, but those of you who have seen The Matrix might notice some parallels…

RPGs, like plastic water bottles, are generally single-use: You play through them once, you beat the final boss, and you move on to the next game. The building mechanic of DQB, however, invites the player to continue putting together their dream world of the Isle of Awakening, whether by discovering/Googling building recipes or throwing out the script and constructing something unexpected. After the boss was felled, I stuck around for many hours afterwards building farms, resorts, and baseball stadiums, not to mention enough transportation infrastructure to make Joe Biden proud. It was that extended lifespan that elevated DQB2 to #5, and while I haven’t played the game in a while now, there are still a few construction projects I’d like to get to someday…

(Zack says: Ironically enough, I’m actually playing through Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes Of An Elusive Age right now and loving my time with it, but I know plenty got into the series proper with this particular entry and sing its praises as an unsung hero of the franchise. And with an opening statement as long as that aforementioned game’s title now concluded, I will say I want to try this ASAP – as you’ll see from a certain entry of mine below, I like oddly relaxing RPGs that shouldn’t make sense but do.)

Zack’s #4: Stardew Valley

Image from ArrPeeGeez

This game is six years old, the Switch version is five years old, and I just played this game for the first time last month and am hopelessly addicted – understood? Good, because I’ll also say that I sort of stumbled upon this game by accident. I usually gravitate toward games that place a big emphasis on storytelling and world-building – and all with a clear end goal in mind. It’s one reason why I just never picked up games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon.

So, I don’t know what compelled me to be in the mood for a game like this, but it’s one of those games where I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. In essence, Stardew Valley is a farming simulator, but it’s really more like a life simulator. You can farm, raise animals, go fishing, fight slime monsters down in the mine, get married, have kids … there’s really not a ton you can’t do in this game. And the beauty is that, if you want that grand, big adventure, it’s right there for you, but you’re also free to really just do whatever you want in the game and enjoy it at your own pace. With a town full of characters that are so memorable and charming, it looks like I got that world-building game I wanted originally anyway; I just got to relax and have fun with it, too. And I can’t say that nearly as much as I’d like to these days.

(Kyle says: This one is on my list of games to try as well! I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons owes a great debt to Stardew Valley; SV went mainstream in a way Harvest Moon never did, and crafting and farming are now key features of AC:NH.)

Kyle’s #4: Among Us

So how can Among Us be so high on my “best Switch games” list when I’m on record saying that the Switch isn’t even the best way to play it?

Well, there’s a reason this game caught fire at the end of 2020: It’s just so darn addictive! As a crewmate, your job is to finish your tasks and figure out who the killers are before they cut down the entire crew; as the imposter, it’s your job to…well, cut down the entire crew. The gameplay is simple and accessible, but it’s the meeting activities that drive the action: You’ve got to decide who to trust, who to vote, and who you can sway to your side before the meeting ends. It’s got that “one more round” factor that the best games always have (especially when you haven’t been imposter for an hour and want one more killer game before you stop).

The human interactions are what make the game so compelling: You’re never quite sure what other people are going to do, you’re constantly thinking about who’s around you and what your alibi should be, and debriefing chat after the match can be quite funny. Of course, the human interactions can be the worst part of the game as well if free text chat is enabled (which it usually is, since trying to communicate with the game’s canned statements is a bit clunky), and you’re constantly reminded that your allies and enemies are a) young, b) stupid, c) bigoted, d) trolls, e) not paying attention, or f) all of the above. If you can find a good group that sticks around for a few matches (or better yet, organize a group beforehand to play), this is the best way to experience the game. Even in “solo queue,” however, I’ve had enough fun (and sabotage victories) to put this game on my list.

(Zack says: This, sadly, is another game I haven’t tried yet but have certainly heard of before. I love the fact that the gameplay completely shifts depending on your perspective, and the strategic element added into its decision-making process means it’s another game I’ll have to try soon. Hopefully before Breath of the Wild 2.)

Zack’s #3: Super Mario Odyssey

I know, shocker that this is here, right? Bet you won’t ever guess that my eventual No. 1 selection is Pokémon Brilliant Dia-justkiddingit’sBreathoftheWild. In all seriousness, I actually didn’t really love Super Mario Odyssey at first. I still maintain that there could have been a few more worlds to pad out the entire experience, and that the ginormous amount of moons to collect isn’t always as satisfying as the more tightly defined missions and hunts for stars of yesteryear in past Mario titles.

Two things happened that changed my perspective completely on this game. For one, I made it to New Donk City, and despite that being the only world where I’ve collected every Power Moon not counting that stupid jump-roping one, I could easily play around in it for hours on end and never get bored. And then the pandemic happened. I played this game properly for a second run … and it just clicked. That childlike sense of wonder and adventure is something I found yet again at a time when I, along with the rest of the world, really needed it most. Mario controls like a dream thanks to Cappy, and the open-world, sandbox style of gameplay that I didn’t explore nearly as well as I should have the first time became a needed escape for me. It’s one of those Switch games you expect to see on lists like these, but I don’t think there’s a game that cemented my return to the thrill of gaming quite like this one did.

(Kyle says: Darn it Zack, did you have to remind me about that jump-roping moon? I had just finally stopped having nightmares about that one…)

Kyle’s #3: Triangle Strategy

I feel like there’s a lot of untapped meme potential in this game. I mean, can Serenoa make any decision without those blasted scales? (McDonalds image from MemeGenerator)

What can I say about this game that I haven’t said already? Its story is deep and detailed, its characters are superb and woven perfectly into the story, and the combat is easy to pick up and feels super rewarding when you pull off a nice move. The Conviction system is an interesting mechanic, although I kind of prefer it in later playthroughs when your stats are built up and you have free rein to make whatever decision you want. The game grabbed me in a way that no other tactical RPG had, and I’m in the middle of my third playthrough (something I haven’t truly done with a game since the late 1990s) exploring the different available paths.

I guess I can talk about why this game was released on schedule when a similar game (Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp) was delayed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Both games feature nations at war, but Advance Wars treated the idea much too lightly, with its bright, colorful atmosphere and silly, fun cast of characters clashing badly with the grim images and somber reality we see in Eastern Europe. Triangle Strategy handles the topic of international conflict with the seriousness it demands, and is always reminding you of the weights you bear and the costs your choices may incur. Your success on the battlefield can wind up being a Pyrrhic victory, and as the lord of your house you’re charged with doing whatever it takes to preserve your demense, whether it be war, diplomacy, or making the hard choice to evict a person or an entire population. When meeting with the Wolffort war council, I imagine that world leaders like Joe Biden or Volodymyr Zelensky go through a similar process: Lay out the options, debate the various pros and cons of each one, and then come together and make a decision.

War is hell, and TS acknowledged this truth while AW ignored it. That’s why TS was released, and part of the reason why it’s here on my list.

(Zack says: Kyle has convinced me numerous times before that I need to pick this up and try it yesterday, especially given that I just broke into the strategy-centered RPG genre this year (which you’ll see below). And since Kyle’s description of the game reminds me of a certain entry you’ll see from me, know that I absolutely echo his sentiment regarding the contrast between games that view war as a lighthearted game, and ones that treat it as the cold, uncaring monster it is.)

Zack’s #2: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

This … is another game I only picked up this year; I told you I was busy playing catch-up! Suffice it to say, then, this was my first Fire Emblem game, and while I understand that the series at this point has heavily divided its fan-base and that this particular game is a different beast all in its own right, I loved every minute of my (multiple) experience(s). The game throws you right in the fold immediately with its combat system, which always looked intimidating from afar with its chess-like mechanics, but is surprisingly addicting in action.

And from there, the story unfolds and lets you take action of which road you want to go down, turning you from a mercenary into a professor (it makes a lot more sense in the game … kind of!) and letting you take charge of a class of characters that you bond with and understand on a deep level. Never in my life have I cared this much for people who don’t exist. I’ll admit that it’s not the best-looking title in the console’s library, and if you want the true experience with this game, you’ll have to sink a lot of time into it. But don’t let that distract you from a game brimming with an overall excellent story at its core. I went from finishing one route to wanting to experience the next one immediately, enough to where I’ve completed every route there is to complete and have sank 150 hours into this game … which, apparently, is considered a rushed experience! I may be a Fire Emblem newbie who is not a “true” fan of this series (I like playing with permadeath off – and I’m not sorry), but I’m going to follow along starting now, and you can’t stop me.

(Kyle says: Pound for pound, I think FE:3H actually has better and more-interesting characters than Triangle Strategy, and my recent experience with TS makes me think I need to go back and try a second run through this game. Also, I agree: Permadeath can go jump in a lake.)

Kyle’s #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Back when I reviewed this game, I labeled it “downright Seinfeldian” in that the game had no true endgame and consisted of indefinite meandering on a remote island. Yet I still enjoyed the game, and have enjoyed the game so much that it wound up as my runner-up on this list. Why?

  • While there’s no overarching endgame to AC:NH, the game constantly presents you with a list of mini-tasks that you can complete for dopamine hits. For example, when I played today, I made sure to find and talk to all my villagers, dig up any fossils I found, get the fossils appraised, get the recipes from the crafting villager and the washed-up bottle, sell said recipes and fossils for Bells, check the shops for any interesting items (Model kits and new glasses? Take my money!), plant a $10K money tree (300% ROI, baby!), find the day’s special visitor (meh, I don’t feel like fishing for CJ today), sit down for a cup with Brewster…and then run around the museum collecting stamps because International Museum Day was a week ago. Back in my “hardcore” days, I was also hitting all the rocks for iron and gold, hitting all the trees for wood, shaking all the trees for hidden items (and getting stung by bees at least twice in the process), watering flowers, catching fish, swimming around the ocean…there’s always a ton to do, and it’s easy to see how time slips away!
  • New Horizons takes this series to its logical conclusion: You’re essentially a god on your island, and while you don’t quite have the crafting power you do in Dragon Quest Builders 2, you’re not that far away from it either! You can terraform the entire island to bend the rivers and cliffs to your will, you can arrange furniture outside to create intricate scenes, you can create custom designs for surfaces and clothes (I can run around on my basketball court in a Steve Young jersey!), you can create paths that your villagers will actually follow (they’ll interact without outdoor items as well), and of course you can customize your house and choose which of your “dreamy” villagers will share your paradise with you! In turn, this feeds into your list of mini-goals: Now, you can be looking for specific items to complete specific areas, and come up with the best ways to utilize the space you have.

With the way it feels like a) the world is falling apart every time you look out the window, and b) we have almost no control or say in the matter, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides both the distraction and the control we crave to give our lives some semblance of calm and routine. If only more country singers would give up drinking their problems away and use AC:NH to ignore them instead…

(Zack says: With Stardew Valley now standing as one of those games I go back to every, well, week or so, perhaps it’s time I finally take the deep-dive into Animal Crossing, because a peacefully relaxing game where you play on an island and interest with adorable NPCs … man, why didn’t this sound like a good idea to me before?!? At a time when games are getting bigger – often to the point of being bloated – I appreciate that there are still casual experiences like this out there that can appeal to anyone, so long as they give it, oh, a minute or so of their time to hook them.)

Zack’s #1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Image from Pocket-Lint

Hey, one of us had to be basic.

In all seriousness, though, I actually get those who say this isn’t their favorite Switch game or even their favorite Zelda game, provided one can even call it that, given how much it breaks traditional conventions of the established formula. But that’s the thing – by pulling influence from the very first game in the series, Breath of the Wild draws a connecting line between it and that game while forming its own blueprint along the way. What else can I say about a huge open world that brims with personality and feels like it’s operating as just that – a world of its own. An escape. A terrifying yet exciting treasure trove of secrets waiting to be unearthed. A place where you can find little green beings scattered across the land that say “yeah, huh, huh” when you find them and are just the cutest things ever. It’s certainly not perfect in everything it goes for, but I think for many it’s perfect enough for them, and as someone who bought his Switch in late 2019, this became another game alongside Super Mario Odyssey I lost myself in during the pandemic. It was one of the first games for the Switch, and technically it’s more of a Wii U game than anything else. But even now, five years later, it’s still my pick for the best of the bunch out there.

(Kyle says: This one didn’t qualify for my list because I played it on the Wii U, but this game’s scope and sense of exploration remained unmatched by any title that’s come along since. The only question now is whether or not we’re going to get the sequel before 2024…)

Kyle’s #1: Splatoon 2

You all knew this was coming. You’ve seen my Twitter feed, you’ve seen my blog posts on using and beating different weapons, and you might have even seen me try to convince people that the Undercover Brella is the best weapon ever. Heck, I’ve used my ‘Octo-sona’ so much that I’m starting to wonder if I qualify as a furry.

I have sunk nearly 2,900 hours into this game, and have done nearly everything you can do in it. I’ve completed all the levels in the original single-player mode and Octo Expansion DLC, I’ve reached X rank in all three ranked multiplayer modes (I’ve got the X in Clam Blitz as well, I just refuse to acknowledge it as a game mode), I’ve reached the Profreshional rank in Salmon Run, and I’ve been working on a long-term project to amass 100 wins with every weapon in the game (I’m up to 98 out of 139 as of this writing). This isn’t just my favorite Switch game, it’s right up there with Super Mario RPG and Pokémon Pearl as one of my favorite games of all-time.

Shooters are not a genre I consider myself a fan of (back in the day it was mostly platformers, RPGs, and sports titles), so why did Splatoon (another 800+ hours there) and Splatoon 2 resonate the way they did? Part of it was the timing (every grad student goes through a midlife mid-thesis crisis when they feel like they’ll never escape and/or accomplish anything), part of it was the Nintendo factor (you couldn’t really play Call of Duty on a Wii U), part of it was the “one more game” magic (matches are really short compared to other games, so the sting of defeat washes away fairly quick), and part of it was something I keep harping on country artists to do: Find a way to make your work distinct! Splatoon brought a cartoonish and colorful aesthetic to a genre normally steeped in gritty realism (its quirky and unrealistic presentation allowed it to succeed where Advance Wars didn’t), Turf War changed both the typical objectives and mechanics of the game (you don’t kill to win, you paint the floor! And swimming through ink makes movement as important as aim!), and the use of motion controls (and they were used well for a change) enabled a whole new way to experience and play the game.

It’s been a long time since a game captured my attention like this one, and that’s what puts Splatoon 2 at the top of my list. However, it begs the obvious question: What about a certain “three-quel” coming this fall?

Image from Nintendo Life

It’s hard to say where Splatoon 3 will eventually wind up. The circumstances are very different now, and the older I get, the more all this adult responsibility stuff I’ve been running from catches up with me. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’m going to find another 2,900 hours lying around to devote to more squidkid shenanigans.

Still, I found that time once before, and I regret nothing. Splatoon 2 is a fantastic game, and I consider all those hours I put into it, as Brad Paisley might put it, to be time well wasted.

(Zack says: First of all, I’d like to say that I actually did play Call of Duty, though on the DS. And I don’t recommend it. Second of all, Kyle’s love for this series has been an infectious joy to read about for years now, and it’s part of why I’m a bit sad I missed out on the initial hype with Splatoon as a whole. With the third entry on the way soon, I just may join my friend from the ground up this time around, and I can’t wait for that.)

The Top 10 Triangle Strategy Characters (#1 Won’t Shock You At All)

Back when I started playing Triangle Strategy, I declared that I wasn’t going to record any of the gameplay—this game was for me, and I wasn’t going to worry about farming it for content. 100+ hours later, despite adhering to this pledge, I’ve probably gotten more posts out of this game than anything else (game, song, or otherwise) on the blog!

As I’ve previously discussed, TS goes to great lengths to make each playable character distinct enough to convince the player to try them all out, since the lack of permadeath means that once you recruit a character, you’ll always* have them available. (*Certain characters may leave your team temporarily depending on your decisions. Terms and conditions apply. See store for details.) However, “distinct” and “useful” are two very different things, and as the miles and battle scars pile up you’ll start to see a meta develop within the game that favors certain characters over others. Some characters are no-brainer selections regardless of the circumstances, some characters are only/most valuable in certain situations, some are best deployed in groups to take advantage of their synergy, and some will be glued to the bench save for the occasional mock battle. (Seriously, I recruited Piccoletta fairly early in my first playthrough, and I’ve yet to use her in a main story battle…and she’s still more useful than Giovanna.)

So which characters should you target to optimize your squad against all comers? Here are the ten Triangle Strategy characters that I’ve squeezed the most value out of in my time with the game.

(Disclaimer: I have yet to recruit four of the available characters to my squad, and while I’m pretty sure Travis and Milo wouldn’t make this list anyway, I think Avlora and potentially Cordelia could force me to update these rankings in the future. But hey, at this point what’s another Triangle Strategy post?)

#10: Narve

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 110 and Liberty score above 275.

Why? TS doesn’t have a complex elemental strength/weakness system like Pokémon, but you’ll occasionally run into enemies that fear one type of magic more than others, and they also impact the terrain in different ways (freezing tiles, setting tiles ablaze, chaining attacks through water, etc.) Narve’s biggest strength is his flexibility: Most of the spell-slingers in this game specialize in one or two forms of magic, but Narve can use all of them, including a healing spell that can target multiple allies! Normally being a jack-of-all-trades means that you lack the raw firepower of an elemental specialist, but I found that the base elemental spells (especially Scorch and Icy Breath) were the ones I leaned on for the specialists as well, so Narve was either a) a feasible replacement for said specialist, or b) a great way to double down on a specific type of spell that suited the battlefield (for example, electricity if the field was stormy or featured a lot of traversable water tiles). Narve’s recruitment requirements are laughably low (he was the first freely-recruitable character that I got), so be sure to pick him up quickly, because he’s a solid choice as a primary mage and a great choice as a supplemental one.

#9: Corentin

How To Obtain: Choose to visit Hyzante in Chapter 3.

Why? Unlike Narve, Corentin is an ice man in the mold of George Gervin and Mr. Freeze, and I would argue he gets more out of this element than anyone else gets out of anything else. Sure, he’s got a hair more firepower than Narve and can choose to dial in on a specific enemy with Frosty Fetters instead of using the wider-but-weaker Icy Breath, but what puts Corentin on this list are the non-offensive capabilities provided by his kit. Icy Wall constructs a barrier that can seal off a narrow passageway or help protect an ailing unit, while Shield Of Ice will not only protect a unit from a single attack, but will also counterattack regardless of what that single attack was (in other words, it’s way better than Frederica’s Flame Shield). With Tactical Points (TP) being perhaps the most precious resource in the game, his ability to instantly gain a TP when beginning his turn on a frozen space can also be helpful, even if it doesn’t get activated much in practice (he’s usually freezing enemy squares with attacks, and his low physical defense and inherent ice resistance means enemies aren’t throwing ice attacks back at him). Visiting the Holy State early in the game is a must, because Corentin will come in very handy as the game rolls along…and going to Aesfrost only gets you Rudolph, i.e. the weakest archer in the game.

#8: Serenoa

How To Recruit: Buy the game!

Why? As the protagonist, using Serenoa is required for every story battle, so it’s a good thing he turns out to be so useful. Serenoa starts out as your typical swordfighter, and he’s outclassed by Roland early on in the game due to his comparatively-limited movement and attack range. However, as the game progressed it seemed that Roland got weaker (his lack of both physical defense and a true ranged attack meant he was usually the first character to fall every battle) while Serenoa got stronger (both his stats and his kit lent themselves to leading the vanguard). Serenoa may not be the guy setting the edge and drawing the battle line (that’s going to be a tankier character like Erador or Flanagan), but you’ll want him walking that line like Johnny Cash to maximize his value: He needs to be close enough to the enemy to use Hawk Dive, Counter Stance, and Sweeping Slash, but close enough to his allies to benefit from Strength In Numbers and use abilities like Shielding Stance and Under Conviction’s Banner. (Thankfully, his physical attack power allows him to both start and finish battles as necessary.) It may not be glamorous work, but Serenoa is a great choice to set the edge, draw the defense’s attention, and give DPS characters like Narve and Corentin the space to do their work.

#7: Medina

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 500 and Liberty score above 400.

Why? This one even caught me by surprise, because up until I reached the final fateful decision in my first playthrough, Medina was a clear-cut C-tier character that showed up in story battles only slightly more than Piccoletta. The game’s decision to put strict limits on item availability (not to mention giving you few opportunities to earn enough money to actually buy the items) meant that Medina, whose kit was completely based on the effective use of buffing and healing items, didn’t get much of a chance to shine.

So what changed? Two things:

  • Eventually the floodgates opened for weaker healing items, allowing you to properly stock your inventory and spam such items, which weren’t really powerful enough to do anything…
  • …except that Medina finally learned the TP Physick ability, which granted a tactical point to any unit she used a healing item on. If she used an item that healed multiple characters, each one (even herself if she was in the item’s area-of-effect!) got a TP.

Suddenly, the vaunted armies of Hyzante were caught in a death spiral: Media would stand amongst TP-hungry units like Frederica and Corentin, use her Double Items ability, and drop healing items on the mages (even if they were at full health!), providing them TPs that allowed them to keep firing at the enemy without ever having to stop and recharge. Even better: If Medina used ranged HP recovery pellets and made sure they were also granting HP and TP to her, she could use Double Items on the next turn too, and the wheel kept turning until it had run over every bad guy on the battlefield. (I almost felt sorry for the final boss…)

Of, and one more thing: With a Single Swift Spice (and 2 TP), she can use her Fast-Acting Medication ability to let another character cut the line and act right after she does. Benedict who?

With her limited offensive and defensive abilities, Medina isn’t here because she can take over a game herself. She’s here because she can break the game just enough to let other characters take over the game for her. So yeah, recruit her, let her build up her powers in mock battles, and then watch the sparks fly.

#6: Julio

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 110 and Morality score above 275.

Why? As an individual, Julio can only kinda-sorta stand on his own: His offensive and defensive capabilities are better than Medina’s (actually, he seems to deal more damage than Benedict), but they’re not nearly in the class of true standalone characters like Corentin or Serenoa. So why is Julio ranked higher than both of the characters I just mentioned? It’s because that much like Medina, Julio’s primary role is to power up characters and let them do their thing.

Julio is the equivalent of the Bravebearer job in Bravely Default II, and his job is to make sure that you’ve got enough TP to do your own job (and to a lesser extent, ensuring the enemy doesn’t have enough TP to do theirs). Most of his abilities boil down to the same thing, but each one can be useful depending on the situation:

  • Moment of Truth not only hands 1 TP to a unit, but ups their strength and magic attack as well, which is just unfair when you’re giving the TP to Frederica on a sunny day. The cost of the ability starts at 2 TP, but can be eventually lowered to 1 to let you use it on every turn.
  • Finish Them! is the least efficient of the abilities (it costs you 3 TP to give 2 TP to someone else), but it’s got the largest range of all the attacks, so you don’t have to be right next to someone to help them out.
  • Inheritor just gives all of your TP to someone else, which can turn a useless, recharging unit into a full-TP juggernaut that can rain destruction down on their foes.

Just like with Medina, Julio will do his best work behind the scenes, ensuring your best characters have what they need to turn the tide of battle. If only there were more civil servants like him (and less like, say, Patriatte) in Washington these days…

#5: Hughette

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 2.

Why? In my experience, there are 3 things that define the meta of Triangle Strategy: Range, mobility, and TP efficiency. The TL;DR of this section is that Hughette checks all three boxes:

  • Her bow allows her to rain arrows down onto her foes from a safe distance, chipping in while tankier heroes hold the line.
  • Flugie (yes, that’s the name of her hawk) allows her to quickly and easily stake out the high ground on any map, which will increase both her damage and range. No other archer (and few other units in general) has this much effortless vertical mobility: Trish has to burn a turn and a TP using Leap, and Rudolph and Archibald will need help from characters like Jens or Quahaug.
  • Hughette may not have the multi-unit attacks that mages do, but she has some very useful tricks hidden in her quiver. For example, Blinding Arrow lowers the accuracy of its target (perfect for enemy archers trying to snipe your backline), and Shadowstitching Arrow immobilizes its target and locks them in place for a few turns (great for enemy frontliners who lack a ranged attack). These attacks are great for creating space for your teammates, letting them move about freely and helping them gain control of key areas.

In short, calling Hughette the best archer in the game isn’t much of a stretch (only Archibald can really make a viable counterargument). How nice of the developers to let you use her from the start!

#4: Geela

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? Actually, the biggest solid the developers do you is letting you use Geela right from the start. There are plenty of effective healers in the game (we’ve already discussed a few here), but Geela stands above them for one reason: Her unmatched efficiency. Let’s break down the math:

  • Cure Wounds only costs 1 TP to use.
  • By default, any character not named Decimal gains 1 TP at the start of their turn.
  • Therefore, Geela is the Adrian (“All Day”) Peterson of Triangle Strategy, because all day is exactly how long she can cast healing spells.

Now let’s consider the competition:

  • Narve, Hossabara, and Cordelia require 2 TP for their base healing spells.
  • Giovanna requires 2 TP and a puddle to stand in for use her ability.
  • Medina can match Geela’s healing output, but you’d better have plenty of items stocked up, because once those run out, so does her usefulness.

Of course, it’s not all about efficiency…but then again, neither is Geela. If she needs to knuckle down and unleash more power, she’s got Sanctuary and Mend Wounds to do it. She can also remove status conditions using Heal What Ails You, and even channel her inner Link by using Miraculous Light to give someone a fairy in a bottle that will revive them if they fall. She’s not just the best healer in the game, she’s in the conversation for the best healer ever. I mean, could Rabbid Peach heal every turn? Could Mercedes from Fire Emblem: Three Houses hand characters an extra tank of HP and tell them to go wild? Could Mother Teresa raise the speed of her allies at will? I rest my case.

#3: Flanagan

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 750 and Morality score above 1050.

Why? Look, I love Erador as much as the next guy, but he’s got one fatal flaw: Even with Sprint, the man is slow as molasses, and he slows down any push you make because he’s got to be at the front of the line. Flanagan is a combination of Erador and Flugie: His base movement isn’t any better than Erador, but his hawk allows him to scale walls and navigate uneven terrain without a hitch, and Aerial Assault (which is a decent attack option by itself) can double as a mobility booster by letting you move a few extra spaces in a turn.

Having this kind of mobility could be a problem if a unit strays to far from their healers (see: Roland), but Flanagan’s rock-hard physical defense means he can pretty much stake out any position he wants and dare the opponent to move him. Mages will have little trouble doing so, but non-magical troops comprise the bulk of most enemy forces, and they’ll generally have a lot of trouble bringing him down, even with follow-up attack combinations. If there’s an ally healer anywhere in the vicinity, Flanagan ain’t going anywhere (and if he’s got his Iron Stance skill, not even shield bashes will do the trick.

Flanagan’s this high on the list because he’s a safe and effective choice to be the first person into an area (fly him in first, stick Serenoa next to him, bring the mages up behind him, and profit). He’s not quite Erador in terms of drawing fire (Provoke is far better than Shield Bash, so if the battlefield is level Erador can be a better choice for keeping people away from your flimsier units), but for the most part Flanagan will be an automatic selection for your squad.

#2: Maxwell

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 750 and Liberty score above 1050.

Why? As tough as Flanagan is, Ser Maxwell is hands-down the best melee unit in the game. The dude is basically Roland on steroids:

  • You want attack power? Maxwell’s spear can strike two units at once by default, or you can focus your power on a single foe using Triple Thrust (the cost of which can be reduced to 1 TP). His offensive prowess rivals that of Serenoa, allowing you to make quick work of anyone is your way.
  • You want mobility? Maxwell has decent movement range to start, and then can use Traverse to move a few more squares (ignoring walls and gaps) before launching their attack. His ultimate attack High Jump combines these two steps, effectively turning him into Super Mario (or would Genji be the better comparison, as it makes diving enemy backliners Maxwell’s speciality?).
  • You want survivability? His Revive ability automatically gives him a free tank of HP when he falls in battle, allowing Geela to save her powers for lesser units. It also means he can imitate Flanagan for a few turns if necessary, drawing fire away from other units.
  • You want range? Lance Hurl allows him to strike from a distance without getting up close and personal with the opponent, which is the one missing piece from Roland’s kit.

Maxwell is a must-pick for your team no matter the situation, and his power makes him worthy of his Dawnspear title. There’s only one character, however, who’s worthy of the title of best Triangle Strategy character, and that’s the Kensa .52 Gal herself.

#1: Frederica

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? I struggled to find a suitable nickname for Frederica as she dominated my first TS playthrough…and then she two-shot all three of the supposedly high-powered horsemen in the final battle like she was carrying a certain meta-breaking polka-dotted weapon from Splatoon 2, and a new legend was born.

I’ve already laid out the case for Frederica being the best character here, but the thing that really cements her position is how her presence goes beyond succeeding in the meta and starts defining it, much like how the original Kensa .52 Gal turned Tenta Missiles into the ever-present force that they’ve become in Splatoon. Characters like Julio and Medina are on this list simply because they have incredible synergy with Frederica, giving her the HP and TP necessary to absolutely dominate the battlefield. (And I say this despite the fact that I’ve never bothered to unlock her ultimate attack Sunfall—I just Scorch my way to victory!) Her magical powers are unrivaled, and if you can spam them from the high ground, no army can stand against you.

Now, I will admit that her star hasn’t shone quite as brightly in my second playthrough thus far: We’ve run into more battles with inclement weather, and she has some serious negative synergy with Ezana (what do you mean you’re going to make it rain?!). Still, for the most part she’s been able to power through, play her game, and continue squashing her foes, and that’s more than enough to keep the top spot on this list.

Next question: Is Frederica the best tactical strategy character ever? Send word to Lysithea, Sakura, and Rabbid Luigi: The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Tormented Souls: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Amazon

Well … yes, I think … or maybe no, depending on who you are, dear reader. But hey, let’s table that for  now and dive into the time machine.

As a Switch owner, I can only say I’ve played certain Resident Evil titles, and only up to 6, at that. What this means is that, until I finally have the means to experience 7 and 8, I’m stuck deciding between 4 and the remake of the first game for my favorite title in the series. The chronicles of Leon Kennedy in the former title have certainly provided the roadmap between adventure and horror that’s guided the series ever since its release, but there’s the part of me that’s a bit sad that we’ll never get games like the latter title again, when the controls were clunky, the camera angles were fixed, and we loved them just the same anyway.

Truth be told, though, that style of gameplay is something every horror series has moved on from, and to be fair, it’s probably for the better – especially when series like the aforementioned Resident Evil have found ways to modernize the horror experience without relying on past gimmicks. But for those missing that classic experience, the recent Switch release Tormented Souls should certainly satisfy that hunger, even if outright recommending it is trickier. Those familiar with the basic formula will probably jump right in even despite some beginning frustrations; others may view it as a clunky, outdated ripoff that’s hard to enjoy. And despite my disagreement with that assessment, I can’t say it’s completely unfair.

The basic gist is that you play as Caroline Walker, who receives an anonymous letter with only an address for the Wildberger Hospital/mansion/dungeon of doom, as well as a picture of two little girls that, for reasons unknown at first, give Walker headaches and nightmares. Because of this, she travels to the hospital, gets clunked on the head mere moments after entering the establishment, and wakes up in a bathtub somewhere else in the establishment hooked up to a ventilator. Oh, and she’s missing an eye … and then the game begins!

My initial thoughts when playing the game were that it felt like I was playing something from around 2002 or so, and while that statement could be used as a fair criticism, I saw it as an honest homage to the various series that inspired it, which goes beyond just the aforementioned Resident Evil to include Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill, as well. For as much as the developers wanted to bill this as a modernization of the formula, though, that’s not really accurate. The camera angles are fixed, the save points and mechanics to actually use them are limited, the voice acting is wonderfully cheesy as hell, and the controls … could be better. Again, mileage will vary on how well that classic formula will click with some, but even despite liking it myself, I do have some slight issues with it. For one, there are plenty of times where I’d have Walker walk somewhere, only for the angle to completely change and the controls fail to follow suit, prompting my control of Walker to wack out a bit and have her return to the same direction she just came from, which did not help when running from enemies.

Although, speaking of enemies, your main ones aren’t zombies; they’re mutated hospital patients that have transformed into monsters – your first one being a knife-wielding creature in a wheelchair that’s a comin’ for ya. And therein lies the appeal to this game – the atmosphere, layout, and enemy design. The character designs are definitely on the rougher side of quality, but Tormented Souls is all about building its plot through subtlety, just like those survival horror games from yesteryear. You’ll find documents scattered throughout the mansion that piece together the story, which gets better and more starkly depressing as it goes on, gradually revealing Walker’s own role in the overall plot.

Of course, there’s always that question when going through a survival horror game of just how cautious one should be. In my experience, while the game is never one to hold your hand, there are subtle clues and hints to guide the player along the way and never make it feel too unfair. Right at the beginning of the game you’ll get a warning to not enter the shadows, meaning that if you enter a darkened area without your trusty lighter and hang around for too long … well, something will get you (I found out the hard way). And as far as healing items and ammo are concerned, while resources are very scarce at first, the game eventually opens up and gives you more than enough to properly escape the nightmare.

The tricky part, then, comes through in its puzzle design, which is another homage to what came before it that feels brilliantly crafted … and also just downright frustrating at points (did anyone solve those combination door puzzles without a guide?!?). Unlike what came before it, Tormented Souls creatively allows and encourages players to solve the puzzles in real time and properly examine every object they come across, which leads to some really well-crafted puzzles and solutions (heck, I got stuck on the first room), the kind that feel challenging, but also make sense when actually solved and completed. The more frustrating elements come in the backtracking, where even if you’ve opened up a new room and received a new item, you might have to backtrack all the way to the other side of the mansion in some random little room you don’t really remember too well to use it. Granted, if the map system was a little more intuitive and less clunky, that would help, but, like with those survival horror games of yesteryear, the difficulty stems from figuring out the next move rather than how to take out the next enemy. And the overall game, while surprisingly short, will feel like a much more padded-out experience due to the player’s initial lack of understanding.

Despite my criticisms, though, is Tormented Souls worth your time? Well, yeah, I think so, but I would recommend playing it on another system if you can, mostly due to how rough the cutscenes look on it (everything else seemed to run fine for me, however), and I would reiterate that it’s a very niche experience that might not attract players who didn’t grow up with that classic survival horror experience. If you’re like me and did, then Tormented Souls provides an absolutely worthy and great addition to the genre’s library. The gameplay is dated but still fun, the story progresses at a great pace, the enemies and overall atmosphere provide that perfect sense of dread, and the puzzles, while challenging, are mostly always fair and definitely interesting and creative. Classic survival horror might not have received an update to its style here, but sometimes you don’t need to mess with what already works.

MLB The Show 22: Early Impressions

Image from Nintendo

Baseball is back on Nintendo hardware, and it is glorious.

Sports games were a staple of both Nintendo consoles and my childhood back in the day, but as games pushed the envelope and strove for graphical fidelity and realism, they drifted towards more powerful consoles like the Xbox and Playstation (and in truth, much of the player base migrated with them, leaving few diehard fans in the Nintendo-only camp). As the Switch started blowing up, however, my hope was that the console would become too lucrative an opportunity to ignore, and companies like EA and 2K Games would port over their annual cash cows and finally give those of us locked into the Nintendo ecosystem a chance to relive their glory days. That’s only kinda-sorta happened thus far (FIFA has been here from the start but has never achieved feature parity across consoles, and NBA 2K18 was…not a fun experience), but now a surprise combatant has entered the ring: Sony?!

Apparently Major League Baseball asked Sony to put The Show on non-Sony platforms (which would totally makes sense; MLB has been eclipsed by football and basketball and needs to find fans wherever it can), so at long last baseball has returned to Nintendo. Given the power difference between the Switch and other consoles, however, the move raised an important question: Could the Switch feasibly support a game that leaned so hard on a realistic presentation?

Honestly, I would say yes! MLB The Show 22 isn’t just playable on Switch, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience that’s been missing on Nintendo’s hardware for quite some time. The game doesn’t quite have feature parity and the ultra-realistic graphics aren’t here, but the major modes are here (for better or worse), and the core gameplay is both solid and accessible. If you’ve been waiting for a major baseball title to return to Nintendo, the moment has arrived.

First, let’s address the elephants in the room:

  • How does it look? If you’re used to being able to count every bead of sweat dripping off the batter’s forehead, you won’t get that here (in truth, if I had one gripe about the graphics here, it’s that players look overly shiny/polished when they’re supposed to look wet). For someone like me (i.e., someone who hasn’t seen a true baseball simulation since MVP Baseball 2005, the graphics looks pretty darn good, even (especially?) when compared to the zombies we saw in NBA 2K18. The animations are fluid, the controls are smooth, and the presentation is solid enough to not break the immersion (perhaps they’re a bit too lifelike for MLB’s liking; the stadiums seem to have a lot of empty seats, just like actual baseball…).
  • How does it play? The game got a ton of bad press from its horrible tech test back in February, but things seemed to run pretty well when I played the game, at least in docked mode. Stutters in the game were rare, even when playing online matches, and while hitting proved to be a challenge, it felt like a fair one: I wasn’t missing the ball because it was teleporting, I was missing it because I couldn’t read the pitch fast enough and was swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Pitching and fielding was quick was pick up and satisfying to execute, and while load times could occasionally rival that of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there were no noticeable breaks in the action while you were in a game.

Now let’s talk about some of the things this game does really well:

  • Sports games have changed a lot since I’ve really played one (we’ll get to microtransactions eventually), so the big new addition to me was Road To The Show, an RPG-esque mode when your created player gets drafted and works their way up to the major leagues. I absolutely loved this mode: It provided bite-sized bits of gameplay that focused only on the plays your character was a part of (starting pitchers would have to go through longer stretches of gameplay), letting you quickly bounce back from a mistake or power your way through a hot streak. Now that two-way players are a feature, you can get the hitting and pitching experience in the same playthrough, even if you’re not in the lineup every day (which helps if you struggle at one of the modes; my player might struggle to reach the Mendoza line at the plate, but he’s the best blasted closer in Double-A). There are some small minigames you can play to bump up your stats, but for the most part the action takes place on the field (there hasn’t been any drama to speak of off the field, but my character tends to stick with bland answers. I save the controversial takes for Triangle Strategy decisions). The majors haven’t come calling yet, but I’m having a blast trying to get there.
  • I like how the game opens by letting you try and choose from the various control options that are available. I’m more of a “see ball, mash button” kind of guy and prefer to focus on timing and pitch recognition in the strike zone, but if you want a bit more control to aim for where the ball is thrown specifically, you can do it. Same thing on the mound: You can either work through a couple of gauges to execute every pitch optimally, or you can just aim the ball and throw it. Giving the player this much flexibility ensures that they can play the game the way they want to, which is all we can ask for from a game.

So after all this gushing, are there things to be concerned about?

  • First of all, know that the price of this game might not just be $60 for you, even if you swear off microtransactions like I do. The game requires a whopping 17 GB download when you first start (and you’ll have to sit through more downloads as roster updates are released), so you might be forced to spring for a new SD card for the game (or in my case, dump all of your kinda-sorta cool Splatoon 2 clips from 2019 to an external hard drive to make room).
  • In a surprise twist, I kind of wish there was a bit more handholding in some of the game modes, especially Road To The Show. Things just seemed to happen in the beginning that I didn’t expect (wait, what do you mean I have to manually aim my throws to first with the R stick?!), and you’ll get caught in some sticky situations until you figure out what the hack you’re doing (and it will still happen a few times even after you find your bearings). I wish the game was a bit more upfront at time with what it expects of you.
  • As a game mode, Diamond Dynasty is a pretty fun online experience, letting you take on players all over the globe in various levels of ranked matches. However, you’ll quickly notice that everyone you play has a stacked lineup of high-ranked players, and the only way to upgrade your own roster is to earn or purchase better player cards (and you know which one the game would prefer that you do). It didn’t seem like The Show explicitly pushed the microtransactions angle too much, but instead it leans on the fact that you’re constantly overmatched if you don’t sink enough time/money into the team. I could definitely see how trying to play this game competitively could lead to frustration and/or financial ruin.

Overall, however, I found MLB The Show 22 to be exactly the kind of sports simulation I had been craving to see return to a Nintendo platform. Longtime players may find that this doesn’t measure up to the Xbox and Playstation versions, but if you’re willing to concede hyper-realistic visuals and custom stadiums, you’ll find that there’s a fun and rewarding experience waiting for you here. The highest praise I can give this game is that after a few hours with it, I found myself saying “Kirby who?” When you can outshine a first-party Nintendo title, that’s saying something.

Now if only the NHL series would come back to Nintendo…Don’t make me perform a satanic ritual to summon the ghost of Paul Laus, EA. Make it happen.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land: Early Impressions

Image from Den Of Geek

Prepare to temper your expectations, folks.

Kirby’s formal debut on the Nintendo Switch came four years ago with Kirby Star Allies, but that game got a lukewarm reception for feeling safe and uninspired in the wake of franchise-redefining releases like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. Players were looking for a game that pushed the boundaries of what a series could be, which is why so many people (myself included) were so excited when Kirby and the Forgotten Land was announced last year. The game would be Kirby’s first true foray into 3D, and the crumbling, grown-over civilization that served as the game’s setting hinted at a deep, dark story hiding just below the surface.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Kirby series since the days of Kirby’s Dream Land, and after freeing the Roselle in Triangle Strategy, I dove headfirst into Kirby prepped and ready to absolutely love his latest adventure. After playing through the first few worlds, however, I discovered that I only kinda-sorta liked the game, and I was ready to go back and replay Triangle Strategy before I even made it to the first boss fight. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s nowhere near what I expected either, and that’s likely where most of my disappointment stems from. If you’re planning on trying this game, you’ll want to do it with your eyes wide open: This is a refinement of the old Kirby formula rather than an earth-shattering new one, so don’t expect to be bowled over when you dive into this forgotten land.

Let’s start by talking about the forgotten land, shall we? From a graphical perspective, the game generally looks and plays pretty well (and some of the textures, such as the leather on Weapons-Shop Waddle Dee’s hat, are outstanding), but there are noticeable and consistent frame drops for enemies that are far away from you, and there was even a moment coming out of a tunnel where the game suddenly slowed to crawl for a few seconds. The bigger issue for me, however, is the level design: If you heard “3D” and your thoughts immediately jumped to “open-world,” prepare to have your hopes dashed. The levels all have a linear layout that’s much more reminiscent of Super Mario 3D World than Super Mario Odyssey, and given how small and constrained they feel, even calling them “3D” feels like a stretch. The dense overgrowth and debris invite you to explore the areas, but you’ll find yourself forever bumping into invisible walls and ceilings when you do. There are certainly secrets to find and each level’s Waddle Dee checklist encourages you to search for them, but for the most part you’ll see everything the level has to offer the first time through, and playing through them again to find one or two trailing Waddle Dees was more of a chore than a joy. There are also optional Treasure Road challenges that help you upgrade your copy abilities (more on that later), and while they were shorter, I found that the “target times,” despite their minimal rewards, encouraged me to retry them and optimize my path and my strategy. Overall, unfortunately, I would say the levels are “meh” overall, and none managed to stick in my memory for too long once they were complete. (One positive thing I can say, however, is that the music tracks here are great, conveying an upbeat and confident tone as you boldly explore a fallen civilization.)

I’ve got similarly mixed feelings about Kirby’s moveset in this game. For the most part, he’s springy and responsive and plays about how you would expect, but there’s been one major nerf to his moves: Flight is limited to a set height above the ground you jumped from (hence the invisible ceiling comment in the last paragraph) and is no longer infinite (you’ll slowly fall back to earth after a set period of time). I’m not really sure why these changes were made: It’s true that infinite flight could allow players to skip many obstacles, but that’s been something players could do in past Kirby games as well, and it would have opened up more potential exploration options that could have taken advantage of the game’s 3D environment. Instead, Kirby plays a more ground-bound game here, and feels less distinct as a result (every platform protagonist can run and jump, but taking to the air is what makes Kirby…well, Kirby!). The good news is that copy abilities are still present here (albeit not as many as in past games), and you now have the option of upgrading the abilities to more-powerful versions if you have the right collectibles, which adds a bit more power to Kirby’s kit. The abilities that are here are generally pretty good, but Sleep still feels like a troll even if it does restore your health, and I kind of wish Needle had more movement capabilities that weren’t dependent on sticking enemies or blocks. The new ability additions are Drill, which lets you move around underground and attack from below (it feels a bit awkward at times, but it’s generally decent), and Ranger, which gives Kirby a gun and lets them aim freely around the screen (it works pretty well here and doesn’t feel out of place, even if aiming in 3D can be a challenge sometimes). Overall, I like the additions that were made, but the flight restrictions don’t make any sense and and make the game feel less Kirbified.

The game’s major gimmick is “Mouthful Mode,” where Kirby swallows a massive item and gains its powers, such as the speed and ramming power of a car or the can-flinging power of a vending machine. It reminds me of the various robot transformations in Kirby: Planet Robobot, but the fun factor of the mouthfuls is much more variable: Sure it’s fun to zoom around as rusty hatchback, but going up and down as a scissor lift or hopping around as a staircase? The mouthful sections are also a lot shorter here, so often they boil down to moving the item the equivalent of a couple hundred feet. I’m hoping the game unlocks more of its transformation potential as the game goes on, but the early returns are iffy.

Each world consists of a couple of standard levels, a few Treasure Road challenges (some appear automatically, others are hidden and hide to be searched for), and a culminating boss at the end. (The bosses are generally decent, and I appreciate that unlike previous games, going in with a copy ability can be just as viable as waiting for the consumable stars to appear.) The goal for much of the early game is to save as many Waddle Dees as possible by clearing levels and completing other challenges, which will then populate and slowly build up your home base of ‘Waddle Dee Town.’ It’s a cool idea and eventually leads to some interesting options, but the early-game options are a bit underwhelming: You get to rewatch some of the cinematics, you get a house you can decorate with collectible figurines, you get a ‘Dee-livery’ service that lets you enter codes found either in-game or via Internet giveaways, you can buy health recovery items and play a simple Overcooked-esque game to feed hungry Waddle Dees, and you can obtain or upgrade copy abilities. That last one is really the only one I frequent with any regularity, and while you’ll eventually add battle arenas and fish ponds, don’t expect to spend a ton of time there, at least at the start.

Overall, I wouldn’t say there are any dealbreakers in the early stages of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, but there isn’t much to compel the player to keep playing either. Kirby still kinda-sorta feels like Kirby and the copy abilities are generally useful and fun, but the story is vague and slow to ramp up, and the levels invite exploration but really don’t allow it. It’s a capable platformer but nothing more, and while Kirby has a habit of getting both dark and epic in the end, in the meantime we’re left with a game that takes some effort to stay interested in. I was really hoping this game would join the ranks of the franchise-defining titles we’ve already seen on this console, but as Alan Jackson would say, it’s got a long, long way to go.

Seven Things You Can Do To Succeed In Battle In Triangle Strategy

Folks, we have officially jumped the shark—it’s time for some Buzzfeed content!

Triangle Strategy might be one of deepest and most-engaging games I’ve played in a while, but at its core it’s also a darn tough tactical RPG, with loads of opponents who are just itching to introduce you to the business end of their weapons. You’ve got a unique crew at your disposal, but their numbers can be limited compared to the enemy (especially when reinforcements have a habit of magically emerging halfway through the fight), and you’ve got a lot to consider when deciding how to approach, engage, and bring down your foes. So with the odds stacked against you, what can you to make it a fair fight? Here are seven things you can do to turn the tide of battle in your favor and emerge victorious.

Image from Amino

#1: Know the terrain, and use it wisely.

Positioning is crucial when it comes to battle in Triangle Strategy, and holding the favored ground can give you a massive advantage. The best example of this is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s high ground, as TS grants characters a noticeable boost to both their damage and range when punching down on an opponent. If the ground is high enough, most units aren’t able to return fire, and in some cases the AI just ends up running around the map aimlessly because it can’t figure out how to heck to get you, leaving you to casually pick them off as they wander in range. (Seriously, I’ve cheesed a couple of fights and won battles I had no business winning simply because I held the high ground and played the long game.) If you can arrange your ranged attackers “on snipe” (Hughette on high ground is bad enough; if Frederica/Corentin/Narve get up there, you can really rock the house), you can turn a battle around no matter how bad the odds might be.

If you’re stuck on equal footing, seek out ground that limits how many opponents can attack your front lines at one time. Narrow chokepoints are a good place to start, but don’t sleep on the map boundaries either: If opponents can’t get around or behind you, they won’t be able to chain together powerful combo attacks that can drain your HP in a hurry. Backing into a corner isn’t always the worst strategy, as it means that only so many swords and shields can reach you.

So what do you do if the enemy holds the favored ground and is trying to funnel you through an unpleasant gauntlet? With the right skills, the terrain doesn’t have to hold you back: Hughette’s hawk lets you get over walls no matter how high they are, Jens’s ladder can let your entire army scale a barrier and open up some unconventional-but-safer paths to victory, and abilities like Anna’s Surmount or Milo’s Moon Jump can let you cross chasms and clear walls to commandeer more-favorable territory.

#2: Keep your units together and move an a unit. Triangle Strategy features two combat mechanics that can really punish solo units:

  • Attacks from behind are automatic critical hits.
  • If you attack an opponent and one of your allies is directly opposite of that opponent, that ally will throw in a follow-up attack. This can even be triggered by a range attack: If someone’s on the opposite side of the target, they’ll attack no matter how far away the original attacker is.

In other words, if one of your units pushes up too far and get caught out of position, the enemy will quickly surround them and combo them to death through back and follow-up attacks.

The best way to avoid this is try to keep your characters together, covering each other’s backs and denying enemies the opportunity to score follow-up attacks. If you have to push forward into an area, try to get your turns to line up so that you can move several people forward before the enemy gets a chance to respond. High-mobility characters like Hughette, Milo, and even Roland can be really useful here, and Anna is the perfect initiator because Surmount lets her scale tough terrain and Take Cover lets her stealthily take a position and hide until it’s time to strike.

So what’s the downside of staying together? Mainly it’s the threat of getting smacked with an AOE attack that can damage multiple characters at once. Mages are the primary purveyors of such attacks, so…

Image from DND Memes on Twitter

#3: Go after the weaker ranged characters first if you can. Mages can wreck you party in a hurry if you’re not careful, and even archers can be a pain by going after your backline units (seriously, it’s like Geela has a bright-red bullseye on her back), so taking care of them early can save you a lot of headache later on. In theory, this is a tall order because they’re usually hiding in hard-to-reach places and run away from the fight once they’ve tossed in their two cents. In practice, however, the allure of stepping up to attack Geela/Frederica/Corentin/Narve can sometimes entice them into a spot where Serenoa/Roland/Erador can step to them, and they don’t have the HP or defense to withstand a few hard blows.

Generally, there aren’t more than a few magical units on the battlefield (physical attackers outnumber magic users by a wide margin), so by clearing them out early, you can spend your time maximizing your defense against melee fighters and use your own ranged units to dish out the pain.

Speaking of ranged units…

Hey, if I christened Lysithea from Fire Emblem as “Patrick Mahomes” and Frederica is just as good, then… (Original Image from

#4: Power up Frederica and watch the world burn. While I haven’t unlocked every character yet, Frederica is the clear class of the field among your units. With her AOE attacks and literal firepower, she is the Kensa .52 Gal of Triangle Strategy (rumor has it she started that fire Billy Joel talks about), and the synergy of her abilities is frightening:

  • Her “Clear Skies, Fire Damage Up” ability boosts her damage in sunny weather…which describes every battle I’ve had so far. It’s pretty much a free buff.
  • Her “KO TP+” ability (TP = tactical point, basically the game’s MP substitute) means she recharges her magical reserves every time she takes out an opponent, which means she’s out there taking out even more opponents while Corentin and Narve are sitting around waiting for their magic to recharge.
  • She’s got an ability that will bump up the damage of Scorch (an AOE fire attack) or Blazing Chains (higher damage to a single opponent), which kicks her magical might up even more.

You want more? Let’s talk support:

  • The Red Anklet accessory will boost her magic attack for 3 turns after taking out an enemy, which pairs perfectly with “KO TP+”.
  • Julio has several abilities that grant TP to his allies, so if he’s constantly feeding TP to Frederica…

Put it all together, and suddenly Frederica is flexing on opponents and winning impossible 1v4 battles like it ain’t no thang. If she’s got HP and TP to spare, you’ve always got a chance.

#5: Participate in mental mock battles. A lot. This might sound like standard RPG fare (grinding for experience is a painful-yet-still-time-honored tradition), but it’s crucially important in TS because of an unexpected limitation: Item availability.

Normally, games like this let you stock up on as many items as you can pay for, but they’re harder to come by here: The encampment merchant doesn’t have a ton in stock (especially the good stuff), and what’s there is fairly pricey (so apparently Norzelia is having trouble with supply chains and inflation too). Some traveling merchants occasionally show up with rarer goods in exploration scenes, but it’s a one-time-only offer, so you’d better be able to put cash on the barrelhead right there. Mock battles, then, become a crucial source of cash in addition to experience, because with Geela and maybe Narve or Medina as healing options, you’ll be burning through items more here than you might in other games. Use these battles to keep the coffers full and the pantry stocked.

#6: Use the Y button to keep an eye on your turn order. I don’t find the graphical list on the bottom of the list to be terribly useful, but pressing Y when the cursor is not over a character will overlay each character with a number showing their current position in line (#1 is acting now, #2 will be next, and so on) as well as their current TP stock. Having all of this data in front of you is really helpful in planning your next move: For example, if a unit needs healing, will a healing character be able to act in time, and if not, who’s available to use a healing item or act as a meat shield? If there’s a weak enemy, how much time do we have to get rid of them before they act again, and is there an enemy healer we’ll need to worry about in the meantime? Having this info at your fingertips is super helpful for plotting out your strategy and deciding when to make your next move.

Image from MemeGenerator

#7: Use the Vanguard Scarf to get started off on the right foot. In a game where battles can take 90-120 minutes, you wouldn’t think a single turn, even at the start of a match, would have that much of an impact. However, if we go back to our ‘positional is crucial’ statement from point #1, putting the right person in the leadoff spot can make a world of difference, and the Vanguard Scarf can give you the power to make it happen. For example, suppose you find yourself at the bottom of a tall canyon and thus at a significant height disadvantage. No problem: Give Jens the Vanguard Scarf, stick a ladder on the wall, and suddenly your entire force can climb out of the hole with ease. Need to seal off a chokepoint before the enemy can get through? Easy peasy: Even a notorious slowpoke like Corentin can go to the front of the line with the Vanguard Scarf and put an Ice Wall in place to buy you some precious time. Want Erador to stake out an aggressive position and use Provoke to draw some attention? There’s a scarf for that. Heck, even if you just want an extra person to help notorious speedsters like Anna, Roland, and Hughette set up your initial push, you can use the Vanguard Scarf to make it happen. The Scarf can’t be purchased, but can be found early in the game, so be sure to hunt for it!

With these tips, you’re well on your way to finding success in Triangle Strategy. It’s a tough-but-rewarding experience, but with the right approach, you can find your way to victory.

To Kill Or Not To Kill? How Excluding Permadeath Led To Better Character Design In Triangle Strategy

One of the great things about video games is that death is but a mere stoplight: You sit through a brief death animation (in the case of Celeste, very brief), you reappear at the last checkpoint, and you try, try again until you succeed. However, in some games (both unofficially and officially), death is leveraged as an extra challenge mechanism: You’ve only got a certain number of characters at your disposal, and when one dies, they’re gone for good, forcing you to find ways to win without them. The concept of “permadeath” (which is a weird term when you think about it; death is usually permanent, after all) is something often found in what I’ll call “mass-character” role-playing games (mostly tactical RPGs, but things such as Nuzlocke runs in Pokémon games count too), where you’re given a deeper-but-limited bench of characters that you need to protect from the Grim Reaper’s scythe if you want to keep using them.

Permadeath is often the default option in games such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which is why I was surprised to find that Square Enix’s recent release Triangle Strategy did not feature the option in any form. The developers stated that the decision was made to weave a deeper story with their characters—after all, what good is a deep, compelling character arc if said character dies in the game’s second or third fight? That said, Fire Emblem seemed to work around the issue by labeling important characters as “too injured to participate in future battles” when they got smacked down, so why couldn’t Triangle Strategy do something similar?

I would argue that eschewing permadeath actually makes Triangle Strategy a better game, because it forced the developers to think more deeply and get more creative with their characters, finding ways to make each one stand out on the battlefield.

Note those words “on the battlefield”: I wont argue that the character personalities and backstories in Triangle Strategy are any better than those in, say, FE: Three Houses. (If anything, characters like Claude, Raphael, Hilda, and Marianne are much more memorable than the incredibly-serious, rarely-expressive TS protagonists.) What I mean is that generally, characters you access are always available (with some exceptions; for example, Roland won’t be in your party if you’ve turned him over to the Aesfrosti forces), which means that each character needs to find a unique niche that’s useful enough to at least make players consider using them in battle. This challenge led the developers to bring out some fascinating and exploratory ideas, and Triangle Strategy is richer for it.

Consider the basic “healer” role. In FE:3H, you start out with one dedicated cleric (Marianne, Mercedes, or Linhardt) who shoulders the bulk of the healing duties for your team. While there are minor differences in their capabilities, all three characters default to the same role, as do several other characters floating around the monastery (Flayn, Manuela). All of these characters are eligible to be recruited to your team, so if you need a healer, you’ve got plenty of options. In fact, if you really need a healer, you can build up the Faith stat of someone else entirely (imagine Raphael as a cleric!) to do the job.

If this seems like overkill (how many healers does a team really need?), it’s because it has to be. At any moment, your current healer or mage or front-line warrior could end up on the wrong end of a critical hit, and suddenly you’re scouring LinkedIn for a new party member. There’s no telling when or how often this will happen, so FE:3H has to include overlapping characters and roles to ensure that no matter how badly your team gets decimated, you’ve got your bases covered going into every fight.

In Triangle Strategy, you’ve got Geela, and…you’ve got Geela. Yes, there are eventually characters that you eventually might get a chance to recruit to heal your forces, but for the most part…you’ve got Geela. The difference, however, is that you’ve always got Geela, so you’re never forced to enter a match without a primary healer. Geela is also pretty darn good at what she does, so while you might prefer a double-healer comp like the Mercedes-Marianne juggernaut I ran in FE:3H, there’s certainly no replacing her like you could a Fire Emblem character.

So what does that mean for other supportive characters in TS? If Geela is irreplaceable and always available, how do you get players to mess around with other characters in their lane? If you’re the developers, you start toying with other mechanics: Medina, for example, has no healing magic, but she grants extra healing power to items that she uses, and she can use them on characters that are not on adjacent squares. This means that her healing power is not tied to her TP count (although having enough TP can let her use two items in a turn), which can potentially allow her to provide relief to an ally when Geela cannot. Narve, on the other hand, has access to the same multi-person healing ability that Geela does, but it makes him far less efficient as a healer…especially when he’s using the offensive spells that neither Geela nor Medina can use. Each character has enough unique strengths and weaknesses that players can do some scheming and find a reason to bring them along depending on the conditions.

Terrain traversal is another area where characters can distinguish themselves. Most characters have a limited ‘Jump’ ability that keeps them from scaling large obstacles, but Hughette’s hawk allows her to fly around like FE:3H’s Claude and drop arrows on foes from whatever high ground she pleases. (If you ask me, combining her flight with her Blinding Arrow attack makes her slightly OP…) That said, bow users can’t go toe-to-toe with anyone (they have to be at least a square away to attack them), so what can you do if you have to get in someone’s face? Well, Anna has Surmount, poison, and two attacks per turn, so that’s an option. Jens can build ladders that allow anyone to climb a wall so you can use them to pave the way and then let Serenoa or Roland to the dirty work at the top. Even Benedict has some jump buffs in his arsenal that might do the trick if the obstacle isn’t too tall. There are multiple ways to accomplish a task, and each characters stands out enough in their own way to make them worth considering (for example, for all his offensive liabilities, it was Jens and his ladder that let me run a power sweep around an enemy trap in one memorable battle!).

As we move past some of the basic roles, the character abilities get more and more specialized and intriguing. Piccoletta applies Medina’s item prowess to offensive consumables, and she can summon an exact clone to fight in battle. Benedict can alter the turn order in battle and bring allies to the front of the line to act immediately. Julio’s TP manipulation let him combo with TP-hungry characters to make them even more powerful (seriously, if Julio gives her TP and Jens gets her onto high ground, Frederica can darn near wipe out the entire enemy force by herself). Corentin may seem like Frederica’s icy clone, but his Ice Wall helps you redirect enemies to increase your territorial advantage, while Narve’s jack-of-all-trades magic gives you more options than one-trick elemental mages like Frederica or Corentin. By rejecting permadeath, the Triangle Stategy team had to find ways to make everyone on their roster stand out on the battlefield in some way, and while the punches don’t always land (money and items are tightly controlled in the game, which can limit characters like Medina or Piccoletta that rely on them), the developer’s forced exploration of the combat system ultimately produces more hits than misses.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a more personality-driven game, and in that aspect the characters are magnificent (let’s be honest, Triangle Strategy has no answer for Bernadetta). However, the permadeath mechanic forces the combat mechanics to be so flexible and generalizable that anyone can fill any role, which leads some characters (usually those with less-distinct personalities) to be forgotten and neglected. In contrast, Triangle Strategy’s decision not to use permadeath led the team to explore every possible corner of the battle system to develop characters that experiment with unique and useful traits that might entice players to try them out, and the game is better for it. Throw in the game’s many combat mechanics, and you’re sure to have a fun time messing around with different strategies.

A cast of characters with distinct skillsets that provide something for everyone to enjoy? It’s something that Nashville and its faceless young male assembly line could learn from.

Triangle Strategy: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from TheGamer

Do you like a good story? Because a story is most of what you’ll get from this game.

Both Square Enix and tactical RPGs have had a pretty good run on the Nintendo Switch thus far. Square has mostly erased the memory of its messy late-90s breakup with Nintendo with games like Octopath Traveler, Bravely Default II, and Dragon Quest Builders 1 & 2, while tactical RPGs have seen a rise in popularity through games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and especially Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It was only a matter of time before Square jumped into the tactical RPG waters, and the result was the strangely-named Triangle Strategy, leading players through another story of three kingdoms at war trying to rule the fictional land of Norzelia. Whether the game is good or not is not in question: The story is epic, the characters are captivating, and it’s likely to go down as one of my favorite games on the Nintendo Switch. Whether it’s worth buying, however, is another story, and it boils down to one question: How much action do you like in a game? As much as I like Triangle Strategy, this game is only one step above watching a movie, and if you like a bit more excitement and pace in your games, you’ll probably want to pass this one by.

If there’s one word to describe this game, it is slooooooooow: The game is broken down into chapters, and each chapter includes the following:

  • One (possibly two) exploration scenes, where you get to run around a limited area, find a few hidden items, learn some information tidbits to use later in negotiation scenes, and speak with all the cats in Norzelia.
  • A ton of cutscenes that tell the story, set up the battles, and provide some backstory for the characters. Even if you skip all the optional scenes, you’re sitting through a lot of dialogue.
  • A single battle, which will sometimes take an hour or so to complete (and that’s if you win the fight the first time).

In other words, you can be waiting a long time between battles, and if the story doesn’t interest you, this game will be like watching paint dry (and if you’ve set the difficulty too high, eve the fighting will begin to grate on you). There are some “mock” battles that can help you get your combat fix in between chapter skirmishes, but they’re generally pretty short and nowhere near as involved.

This deliberate (plodding?) pace, however, is also the game’s biggest strength. Unlike most country songs on the radio right now, this game makes you think long and hard about every decision, and the high stakes and serious tone of the game makes every decision feel weighty and purposeful. While this approach made success in combat feel very rewarding, the vaunted ‘Scales of Conviction’ scenes never seemed terribly difficult: Everyone was open to discussion and convincing them was a matter of finding the right information during exploration scenes (at least during the early stages of the game). Still, you always feel like you are involved in important political decisions and discussions, and that they warrant careful and copious thought to make sure you make the right choice.

So what is the story I keep gushing over? The game takes place thirty years after a devastating war over the continent’s primary resources (iron and…salt? Really?), with the three kingdoms (Aesfrost, Glenbrook, and Hyzante) locked in an uneasy alliance. Your character, Serenoa Wolffort, is the son of the Lord of one of Glenbrook’s high houses, and is preparing for a politically-bargained wedding to the half-sister of the Aesfrost archduke when the salt hits the fan and he ascends to house lordship just as the alliance begins to crumble. While Aesfrost and Hyzante have general creeds that set the tone in their respective nations (Glenbrook is a bit harder to pin down due to the role of the high houses), the selfish political calculations of everyone in power are never far from the surface, and navigating these waters are what really give the story its power, especially when the knives (both figuratively and literally) come out. I actually like the messiness of the whole thing: Few characters are pure good or pure evil here, and you generally get a sense of each character’s motivations and why they do what they do.

Lurking behind all of this drama is the game’s vaunted Conviction system, and each chapter presents several decisions whose answers represent one of the three categories: Utility, Morality, and Liberty. Your decisions add up over time, and depending on how much (or how rarely) you choose answers in certain categories, the story will take different paths and different characters will join your ranks. While I’m still a bit too early in the game for the decisions to add up to anything meaningful, they’ve already had an impact on my playthrough/strategy: The Chapter 5 battle tries to force you into a central path that’s teeming with enemies, but I happened to recruit a player right before the battle who could build ladders on the battlefield, which let me scale the walls and take a side path that was much easier to defend! I’m curious to see how deep this system goes in the game, but it’s off to an intriguing start.

The combat system is mostly what you’d expect from a fantasy-based tactical RPG: Allies and enemies move around a grid-based map and try to achieve certain victory conditions (take out all the opponents, reach a certain area, etc.). The combat system itself is reminiscent of FE: Three Houses: You can move and take an action (the order of these is up to you), and actions include attacking enemies, casting spells, or using items. There are a couple minor twists included in this formula (for example, being on higher ground increases your range and damage, and attacking an opponent from behind is an automatic critical hit), but the biggest thing to keep in the mind is the combo system: If you’ve got a player on either side of an opponent, attacking from one side will immediately trigger an attack on the other, letting you gang up on opponents to take them down. (However, enemies can do the same thing, and they’re more than happy to do it if you push into enemy territory too far too quickly.) You’ll quickly discover that the best strategy is to move your forces as a group and find narrow passages that are easier to defend (using elemental attack to create or remove barriers can also help). Overall, the battles can be tricky and force you to think a few steps ahead, but it makes it sooooo satisfying when you make the right calls and claim victory.

Square Enix decided not to include permadeath in this game to allow it to weave a deeper story with its characters, and you start with a core group of eight that show up in most of the cutscenes. While each one has a unique and interesting personality, I find that they mostly distinguish themselves through the combat system. Serenoa is your standard “see ball, hit ball” sword-slinger, Roland combines solid offensive power with some extra mobility and reach, Erador is a tank that’s darn near impossible to kill when buffed, Frederica is a mage that adds some literal fire power to your backline, Benedict is a support unit that can bump up your offense, defense or movement, Anna is a stealthy rogue with the ability to act twice, Geela is Marianne minus the self-esteem issues, and Hughette is a bird-riding archer who can ignore the terrain and grab any high ground she pleases. (In Splatoon terms, if Hughette and Frederica end up “on snipe” together, the enemy is in for a long day.) Each new character brings something a little different to the table, which makes proper battle pre-planning critical for success. (Case in point: My Chapter 5 ladders!)

In terms of the graphics, Triangle Strategy uses the same “2D-HD” style that Octopath Traveler did, and the results are the same: The landscapes look great, the characters are sufficiently expressive, and the style captures the retro look the ghosts of RPGs past without seeming bland or stale (plus it probably makes it a heck of a lot easier to get it to run well of the Switch; I haven’t noticed any frame drops in my playthrough). It’s a solid art direction that enhances the immersion rather than distracts from it. As for the music, it’s usually decent and does a good job setting the mood of each particular scene, but you barely notice when you’re caught up in battle or a dramatic twist.

So where does that leave us? We’ve got a lot of positives (great story, great characters, great combat system) lined up against one glaring negative (seriously, this game is as slow as molasses uphill), so whether or not it’s worth buying Triangle Strategy will depend on whether you find the game riveting or sleep-inducing. It’s a game that feels highly tuned towards story-loving RPG veterans like myself, so if you’re new to the tactical RPG space, I’d probably recommend playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses first and see what you like best about the game. If the story and characters are what draw you in, then you might want to give Triangle Strategy a test-drive; if you like a faster pace with lots of combat, then you might want to look for a game with a bit more action (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle isn’t a terrible option, and it’s got a sequel coming later this year!). Much like with Bravely Default II, Triangle Strategy comes across as a serious, hardcore game for serious, hardcore RPG players, and if you can deal with sitting around and feeling like you’re stuck on rails for most of the game, there’s a lot of fun to be had when you get to start calling the shots.